Rob Jones’ brave effort to reach 430 ends in heroic failure as Lancashire fail with honor

Even Rob Jones' century wasn't enough to get Lancashire over the finish line

When Lancashire’s cricketers arrived at Stanley Park this morning, they were aware that if they could hold off Essex for the entire game, they would undoubtedly earn their team five points. On a fourth-day Blackpool pitch, chasing down 430 for the win was unfathomable, even in these days of incredible achievements. 

But Keaton Jennings and his players also recognized that even if they managed to scrape together a manky draw, it would go some way toward making up for the damage to their professional reputations caused by their hogwhimperingly awful performance on the third day. 

Therefore, it was one of those occasions where county cricketers learn something about themselves that goes beyond skill and character. Although they can offer assistance, instructors and coworkers are unable to physically or figuratively “bowl” themselves.

After around ten hours, the Jennings team had learned a lot about themselves, even if they had lost to a strong Essex squad whose varied attack had produced a 46-run victory with only ten balls remaining. 

To give their team a chance of completing the most successful fourth-innings run-chase in their history, Lancashire’s batsmen played positively throughout the majority of the 96 overs they faced rather than blocking like a bugger. It didn’t quite amount to enough, but regardless of their allegiances, those who saw it will never forget it.

Rob Jones moved Doug Bracewell into the safe hands of Dan Lawrence at leg-slip in the penultimate over of the day, when Tom Westley’s men may have been doubting that victory would be theirs. To celebrate their fourth victory of the Championship season, Lawrence was surrounded by teammates almost immediately. 

At the same time, Jones stood still in the crease, his outstanding 111 suddenly forgotten in the midst of defeat. He was of course greeted with a standing ovation as he entered the pavilion, but so were Essex’s players at the conclusion of a protracted drama whose tension had seemed implausible in the extreme when the rain was pouring down on Monday and Tuesday.

But in reality, this game was a victory for practically all of the players, especially Jennings and Luke Wells, whose 58-run combination during the first hour of the game was the greatest opening stand of the game. However, since the previous three had all resulted in a failure, Glen Chapple did not start a conga on the balcony of his house in celebration of this success. 

The sight of Lancashire’s head coach’s openers navigating the opening hour of play with little issues may have delighted him more, with the exception of Wells being dropped on two when Simon Harmer fumbled a difficult one-handed opportunity from Sam Cook at second slip. 

When Jennings attempted to cut Bracewell on the 30-yard line shortly after noon, he only managed to nick the ball high to Will Buttleman’s left, forcing the wicket keeper to make an excellent one-handed catch.

In the morning session, Essex made no additional breakthroughs. Josh Bohannon, on the other hand, challenged Harmer, twice lofting the off-spinner for leg-side sixes as Wells completed his fifty off 83 balls. 

After 32 overs, Lancashire was well-positioned at 140 for one going into lunch, a score that got some people in the pavilion who had been drinking a lot to start speculating on the likelihood of their team winning the game. 

Although it’s possible that the three cases of Château Lafaurie Peyraguey that arrived beforehand had something to do with it, it seemed like they were acting particularly active in the touring version of the 1864 Suite.

Such excitement was not diminished when Bohannon hit Harmer for another six over long-on in the second over following lunch, but it was silenced a short while later when Lancashire lost two wickets in the span of five balls. 

First Wells was successfully taken off Matt Critchley at the backward point by Paul Walter after riding some luck and being dropped twice. Dane Vilas, who is severely out of shape, then failed to capitalize on Critchley’s googly and was dismissed for a five-ball duck.

As the Essex fielders cheered on their bowlers with renewed excitement and loud encouragement, the mood of the game altered almost instantly. 

Bohannon again lost to a backwards square leg-side catch off left-arm seamer Paul Walter when a perfectly placed pull off his hip went straight to Jamie Porter at long leg. This time, Bohannon was justified in doing so because he had scored an outstanding fifty from 65 balls.

Despite being exactly halfway to their objective at the day’s midpoint, Lancashire did it with the help of their final two specialist batters, Phil Salt and Jones. Furthermore, nobody was discussing trimming 430 any longer. 

Essex’s best hope of winning the game, however, lay in Lancashire’s ability to do so, as has been the case in several cricket matches. While Jones and Salt were intrigued by the prospect of an unlikely triumph, Westley’s men understood that their prospects were improved as long as their opponents had a chance.

Soon after tea, the game began to shift in Essex’s favor, maybe in a crucial way. When Porter was behind square on the leg side, Salt top-edged a sweep off Critchley after making 41. After three overs, it was obvious that Lancashire was out of batsmen who could produce the necessary runs for victory when Colin de Grandhomme hooked Paul Walter directly to Jamie Porter at long leg.

Although the new ball was about to be taken and 89 runs needed off the next 16 overs, they still gave it a shot. Before passing Cook to Buttleman, Tom Hartley scored 17 points. 

In the following over, Jack Blatherwick provided Porter with a return catch, and with seven overs remaining in the match, Tom Bailey skied Bracewell to backward point, where Harmer collected a spectacular diving catch. 

Lancashire finally decided to accept the draw, probably just a little bit too late, and the audience fell silent. The draw beckoned as Will Williams defied Harmer with some front foot lunges. Then Bracewell regained his strength and sprinted over to bowl to Jones.

Essex 282 (Westley 135, Walter 76; Bailey 6-59) and 292 for 8 dec (Lawrence 135, Bracewell 61*; Bailey 3-71) beat Lancashire 145 (S Cook 4-42, Walter 3-20) and 383 (Jones 111, Wells 75, Bohannon 68; Bracewell 3-50, Critchley 3-70) by 46 runs